The United States and its allies must be prepared to escalate sanctions against
Tehran if it continues to build its nuclear program, while making clear to the
Iranians that they will not be “let off the hook” by the agreement being
negotiated in Geneva, former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross said on
Addressing the Jewish Agency for Israel’s 2013 Assembly at a
Jerusalem hotel, Ross – who is board co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy
Institute – argued that Israeli fears about the agreement could be
“The chief concern here is that the Iranians are going to be
let off the hook,” he said.
“So the answer to that is to do a number of
things. One, make it very clear in this intervening period, we will go to great
lengths to plug any loopholes that begin to emerge in terms of sanctions
enforcement. By the way, one of the things we’ve done very well is to intensify
the efforts to ensure that the Iranians can’t evade any of the sanctions, which
they did for many years.
“Two, you make it clear that, in fact, sanctions
are going to be intensified. This is a sixmonth time period. There should be no
If there’s no deal, sanctions are going to be
intensified,” he said.
Ross suggested one option would be to adopt
additional rigorous sanctions but put them on hold and warn that they would be
applied if the Iranians did not honor the agreement.
He noted that Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu considered the emerging deal a bad one, but said
there were steps that could be taken to ensure that it was a good
“You may have noticed in the last few days, shall we say, there was
a bit of turbulence in terms of how to look at the negotiations that were going
on in Geneva, which did not produce an agreement last night, but which did leave
everyone saying there has been progress made toward an agreement. The prime
minister of Israel made it clear that he thought the deal that was about to
happen was a bad deal,” Ross said.
Ultimately, though, the test would be
in whether the Iranians “roll back their nuclear program.”
“My point is
if the concern is that the pressure is going to be eased to let them off the
hook, there are steps that can be taken even now that make it very clear that
won’t be the case,” he said. “The objective remains the same objective, and the
key is rollback. The measure has to be, in the end, if there’s going to be an
agreement at the end of the day, Iran cannot be in a position that it can break
out at a time of its choosing.
“The restrictions imposed have to be
extensive enough and the rollback in their program has to be significant enough
that in a sense they’re pushed back to where they were several years ago with
the kind of transparency that would make it highly improbable that they do
[continue with their nuclear program], but with a certainty that they would know
that when they get caught if they did, there would be plenty of time to do
something about it,” Ross said.
The US and the other world powers
negotiating with Iran “share the objective of Iran not being able to produce a
nuclear weapon,” he said.
“There’s no gap in terms of the strategic
objective. There can be logically a question about the tactics of how you get
there. The agreement that was emerging was not an agreement that was not a final
agreement. It was supposed to be a first-step agreement. The members of the P5+1
felt that they could achieve an endgame result right now, which is to roll back
the Iranian nuclear program to the point where the Iranians would not be in a
position where they could have a breakout capability.
that arose over the weekend in Geneva, according to Ross, “had to do with what
the price you had to pay to produce a cap on the Iranian nuclear program at this
“Part of the thinking on the part of those negotiating is that the
Iranian nuclear program is continuing to progress, and it’s going to take maybe
another six months or so to try to reach an endgame agreement. But you don’t
want the Iranians to continue to progress while you’re doing that. So the idea
was, ‘Let’s put put a cap on the program right now.’ “That meant, inter alia, no
new centrifuges and the suspension of 20 percent uranium enrichment, and in
exchange, there would not be a changing of the structure and the content of the
architecture of the sanctions regime, but to allow the easing of it which would
allow the Iranians to gain access to some of the frozen assets they had in
“There was some question as to how much that would be.
Some thought it would be a few million dollars, some thought it would be
higher,” he said. “The concern here in Israel was that you are going to send a
message about easing the sanctions regime, even if you say the structure is
intact. Psychologically, once you begin to breach that, you’re going to find all
those governments and all those in the private sector wanting to do business
with the Iranians saying, you know what, the signs are changing. And if the
Iranians see that people are going back to doing business with them, they can
say, you know what, we don’t have to make further concessions, we’ll find a way
out of this, and the pressure is off of us. The Iranians would be off the
Ross stressed it was “good news” that the international community
had succeeded in isolating Iran.
“To put this into perspective in terms
of the sanctions regime, in 2009, when the Obama administration came in, Iran’s
overall production of oil was 4.2 million barrels a day, and its export of oil
was 2.6 million barrels a day. You know what they exported last month? Six
hundred and fifty thousand barrels of oil,” he said.
Referring to Iran’s
new president, Ross noted that “Hassan Rouhani has a close relationship with the
supreme leader, but he ran [for the presidency] against the policies that
produced international isolation and sanctions, and he said he would get the
“Now whether you think he’s a wolf in sheep’s
clothing, or a wolf in wolf’s clothing, or whether you think he’s going to eat
the wolf, whatever it is, he clearly is there because they feel the pressure,”
Ross, who also serves as counselor at the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, advocated what he called an “automaticity response,” which
he acknowledged was problematic.
“At the end of the day, it can’t just be
a case of economic pressures. Economic pressures bring [the Iranians] to the
table,” Ross said.
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